Could be that the solution is all about the pectin.* It came to me while I was making this zucchini and lemon tart, a Madeleine Kamman recipe from the delightful When French Women Cook. And I will provide you with that very recipe after I have secured your attention for my zucchini idea. Which is entirely untested by me, except in the case of this lone tart. But a big advantage of blog writing (for the writer, not the reader) is that you don't need credentials, or a reliable sample of any kind to hold forth.
The season of zucchini overdose is upon us, whether we suffer from lopsided CSA boxes or gardening neighbors bearing gifts of giant, horsey squashes they cannot bring themselves to consume. Everywhere we read recipes for zucchini breads and zucchini pancakes, zucchini carpaccio-desperate to use it up.
My position on zucchini is not that I don't like it, but more that I could happily live without it, if I weren't so averse to waste.. (Except for those paper-thin, breaded, fried ribbons served with lemon wedges in neighborhood Italian-American restaurants- which I love without reserve, even if some are not so wafer thin, utterly crispy and boiling hot as one might wish..) Mostly, to my mind, zucchini is just kind of boring, and that is IMHO, because it tastes like green water. It's squash nature is diluted by its water content and it exudes slush like crazy when you cook it, so you have to use various techniques- like grating it and squeezing it, or combining it with say, eggplant, which absorbs a lot of water, or sticking it in a bread or cake, where it tastes like something else entirely..
This problem has been discussed quite a bit, and now that I think on it, perhaps the following thought has been booted about too. But I haven't seen it (except in MK's little recipe note), so I'm going to tell you about it from my own viewpoint, here in the kitchen, looking at my tart. Which is basically a dessert. Delicious, but not what a person wants to do with all of her zucchini lode. Or load. What I intend to do, is to try the method with a savory application or two, to see if it will work. I will keep you posted.
So the deal, in this recipe, and according to MK, is that you cook the sliced zucchini with lemon juice and caraway seeds and a little sugar, which ingredients she says, "bring out the pectin" in the zucchini, so that the exuded water magically thickens and concentrates into a syrup. Which it does. The syrup tastes intensely of the squash, and, thanks to the lemon juice- is not really all that disturbingly sweet. And it is no way excessively damp or soggy. In this recipe, though,it is then baked into quite a sweet lemon custard tart- clearly a dessert.
But here's my idea: First, the caraway is a diversion, not involved in the chemistry of the thing, I'm sure. Lemon has its own high pectin content, sugar promotes syryp-ness, jelling, etc. So the solution to the tasteless, watery zucchini problem may be to cook the lemon and zukes with just enough sugar to make this happen, without turning the whole thing into some kind of fruit preserve. It is my belief that the answer to this is carmelized onions and/or garlic,
both of which taste great with summer squash, as does lemon. And with that in mind, I intend to work on a savory zucchini tart and/or pizza thing, which I hope will be extra flavorful, savory rather than sweet, and not the least bit soggy. Stay tuned, if you are interested.I promise to reveal all, even if it turns out to be awful.
In the interim, you might like to try this recipe from the French Alps, as marginally adapted by, well, me. I think it is really cool, and I like the caraway. It's one of those slightly odd provincial French recipes that kind of grows on you-like that pie from Provence with the chard and raisins? It seems a tad funky at first, but then you just kind of want to keep eating more, and could possibly become addicted. The custard may look like it's curdling before it's cooked, but it will be okay after baking.
A 9 inch pan (preferably a white porcelain quiche type pan), lined with a butter based pie dough of your choice
3 small or one large zucchini
1 Tbsp butter (I actually used a local seasonal "pasture" butter which is lightly salted, and skipped the salt. Because this butter is delicious, and only available in the summer.)
2 Tbsps sugar
1/3 tsp caraway seeds
juice 1/2 lemon
tsp grated lemon peel
lemon custard mixture
Preheat oven to 375F. Melt the butter, and slice the zucchini thinly. If using the large kind, cut it into quarters first. Add the zucchini to the melted butter,. Add the rest of the ingredients, and stir, cooking until the zucchini is not so green, and begins to look slightly transparent, and the liquid in the pan is thick and syrupy. Cool completely, then line the bottom of the tart with the cooked zucchini, and tuck it in the oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the lemon custard.
Cream 6 Tbsps butter and 2/3 cup of sugar until light. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 2 eggs, 2 yolks, a pinch of salt and a glug of rum. Mix well, then fold in 2 Tbsps of flour and the finely grated zest of one of the lemons. Even mixed well, it looks funny, but never mind.
Once the partially filled tart has cooked for 20 minutes, carefully pour in the custard and cook for about 25 minutes more, or until the custard has set, with some lovely brown spots.
Serve warm or room temperature, or even chilled, in very thin slices as it is very rich, like an eccentric lemon curd.
*It could also be that I'm a bit obsessive about pectin and sugar, having just spent a fair amount of time learning about jams and jellies in a 3 day class. Or both.